Scotland Loves Anime 2012: Day 4

Starting off the second, Edinburgh, weekend of Scotland Loves Anime were two repeats from the Glasgow weekend. The first, After School Midnighters, followed shortly afterwards by Berserk: Egg of the King (official translation: Egg of the Supreme Ruler). The most exciting feature of the latter was the presence of character designer and chief animation director Naoyuki Onda as well as one of the producers, Fuko Noda.

The evening begun with an introduction by the festival organiser Andrew Partridge who took a quick show of hands as to who was new to the now yearly SLA event, to which about a third of the cinema raised their hands. Jonathan Clements then followed up, introducing After School Midnighters and largely covering what had been said in Glasgow last weekend: created by T-Joy who own entertainment complexes across Asia and are funding films largely to fill these complexes; the director Hitoshi Takekiyo originally created a five minute short which was without dialogue and involved inanimate objects coming to life – namely Dracula, a ninja, Jesus Christ and an anatomical model – the latter of which makes it into the movie.

The movie didn't wholly suit itself to a second viewing however some details came out that didn't the first time around. For the most part, it didn't matter though as the audience was just as, if not more, receptive than before with raucous laughter at all of the appropriate points.

Half an hour after the close of that film, Andrew took to the stage again to introduce the two special guests, Naoyuki Onda and Fuko Noda from Studio 4°C, both of whom took the stage and, through translator Bethan Jones, thanked us for coming and said they had come from Japan to spread the word of Berserk and were honoured to be here. No mention was made of the reason for the change in lineup from the official SLA guide which mentioned Eiko Tanaka, president and founder of Studio 4°C would be the second guest to Naoyuki.

Regardless, the “Golden Age” story of Berserk is still timeless and perfectly suits repeat viewings. Guts' and Griffith's motives one time around might be more clear, or perhaps augmented, the second time.

Q&A

After the applause had died down and the credits had rolled, Jonathan took the role of interviewer at the front of the cinema while Bethan was flanked by Naoyuki on her right and Fuko on her left. Beginning with Fuko, Jonathan mentioned she had only joined the anime industry a little over five years ago and asked how she managed to join 4°C?

Before moving to Tokyo and after she had studied Advertising Design in University, having original wanted to be a designer, she saw Tekkonkinkreet and was moved to tears as to the scope of what anime could achieve and join 4°C shortly after.

Naoyuki on the other hand had grown up in Hokkaido and went to the same school as numerous other well known animators, was there something about Hokkaido which made it such a factory for animators? In short: because they're always buried under snow there's not much else to do! Originally he had wanted to be an manga artist in highschool but then saw Gundam and became an animator instead. Having since worked with Yoshiyuki Tomino, was the Gundam director really as scary as his TV interviews make out? Does he hit animators with their own artwork? Tactfully, Naoyuki said that he had seen Yoshiyuki yelling and had also heard the rumour of artwork scoldings. Now though, after working with many studios and even joining one set up by his close friends, Naoyuki is largely freelance.

The Berserk movies

Moving on to questions about the production of Berserk, the opener was simply: was it tough? Without hesitation both Naoyuki and Fuko said yes, with Fuko confirming it was really tough, mostly due to the “hybrid” technique of CG and drawn animation they had pioneered for the movie. The armour was almost always CG and had a lot of detail while the faces were drawn; it was the first time this technique had been used which made it very difficult but eventually “brute force” won out. As for any particularly difficult scenes, both guests again didn't hesitate to say “most of them”. What about Guts' escape after his assassination mission which has him fending off guards with a 720 tracking shot?

Fuko seemed slightly exasperated, saying that the scene had come late in production when they were pressed for time and she had assumed Guts would simply be drawn rather than CG. When the shot came back, she apparently shouted at the director. As for what the script said would happen at the time: “Guts kills soldiers”. Does this kind of animator embellishment happen a lot, and isn't that what producers are for? Fuko confirms it seems to happen a lot and her job is to get angry with the animators and for them to justify why they're doing it.

Questions for Naoyuki followed, specifically whether there was any of him in the character designs and whether he had simplified them at all? He confirmed that it was tough as a character designer and though he tried to draw them as they were in the manga, he drew them so there's bound to be some of him there. As for simplifying them: no simpler, he thought they were all going to be in CG!

A running theme for the questions posed at SLA this year, mostly thanks to the content of the films themselves, is the Japanese perspective on Europe and the UK. When did Naoyuki and Fuko first come to Europe and what sort of location materials did they have for Berserk? The surprising answer: two days ago was the first time they had come to Europe! As for materials, they had been provided with a lot of photos as well as guidebooks, but Naoyuki is somewhat known for not liking location hunts, calling them “bothersome”.

Production

The first audience question was probably the one most people wanted to hear an answer to: with the Berserk manga having run for over two decades now and still going, will there be any more movies after the Golden Age? Naoyuki said that was a hard question to answer, while Fuko was more pragmatic and said the team had just finished the third movie so was now very tired and needed a break before deciding on anything else.

Jonathan then cut back in, asking whether there was an “economy of scale” in doing three films. Fuko was blunt and said that it was really inefficient. With 4,500 shots in all three films - ordinarily you only have to deal with around 1,600 at a time - meant that Naoyuki was sleeping at work when combined with the headache of the new hybrid animation. Following with another interesting question: originally the project was going to be a single film, how did it become three?

Storyboarding showed that to fit in all the content would make a film too long for any cinema to show. The sponsors though didn't oppose this split but did have some worry over the estimated budget. Did the sponsors have a problem with Berserk being set in medieval times with no chance for product placement e.g. cola? No, as there was some advertising anyway for companies like Lotteria fast food with Griffith eating a burger and Guts drinking cola, while a department store in Osaka had Griffith inviting them in to the sale.

A slightly off-the-wall question from Jonathan next regarding the cooked dolphin which appears on the table during the banquet. Fuko explained that the director had insisted on that after reading a book on medieval Europe and finding reference to it. Staying with that theme, was there anything that had to be changed due to the time period? Both guests indicated the clothing was the hardest to get right with Charlotte's dress especially difficult having been rejected five times before they got it right. From Fuko's point of view, as long as Charlotte looked cute it was fine, but the director was very specific.

Finishing the main thrust of Jonathan's questions was whether Naoyuki or Fuko had read the manga or seen the original 1997 TV series before approaching the films? Naoyuki said that he wanted the films to feel fresh and new, while Fuko had been too busy to watch the anime series but had read the manga before starting on the project.

Audience questions

Launching into the main audience questions was a simple one on who their favourite characters were. Fuko said her's was Adonis which elicited a “aww” from the cinema, while Naoyuki stuck with Griffith. The second mentioned the Tiger and Bunny movies which used a similar hybrid CG/traditional animation approach and whether there was any cooperation between the studios?

As Fuko explained, they started the Berserk project five years ago and although they talked with CG studios, Tiger and Bunny has a far smaller area of traditionally drawn animation, specifically the face within the helmets where Berserk's was far larger. Anecdotally, Fuko said that a few other animation companies had tried the hybrid approach but couldn't make it work.

The next question was on the intended audience for the films, whether it was for fans of the manga and anime series or people with no exposure to it at all? Fuko said that from the production committee stage they wanted fans to see the films but they definitely aimed them more at people without prior experience of the franchise.

Any thoughts on the crowd funding initative – the subtext being the Kick Heart project by Production I.G? Although Fuko had heard of “another company” doing it, she thought it was a good idea as you listen to your audience, that audience then becomes money and you are beholden to them. From her perspective, if it takes off it could definitely change the industry.

The penultimate audience question and the one that was at the back of anyone's mind who had already seen the Berserk TV series: why remake the “Golden Age” arc and not a different part of the manga? Naoyuki responded that the writer of the “original” (implying Kentaro Miura of the manga) wanted to do that storyline, and it was something he had thought as well.

A final question for the obviously jetlagged Naoyuki then: why use the hybrid animation approach, what were the advantages and disadvantages to it? The main disadvantage, he divulged, was that it was hard to create expressions on faces with CG hence why they took this approach. Reading between the lines: if it was entirely drawn, there wouldn't have been the grand sweeping battles shown in the final product.

With that the first Q&A session was over with a second one to come following the European premiere of the second Berserk movie: Battle for Doldrey tomorrow.